In the mid-'90s, with Cash's career at its lowest ebb, Rick Rubin seized upon this idea. He repackaged the man in black as an iconic antihero speaking directly to the moral ambivalence felt by Gen X retards. But Cash had become a deeply moral figure, spiritually decades beyond the grunge dolts Rubin hoped to rope. So Rubin stripped Cash down to voice and guitar, allowing his stark menace to shine through.
Rubin drained the remainder of Cash's creative life into a series of amazingly rough, frighteningly weak albums, replete with misguided cover versions of popular hits, sung by a man cuddling up to the specter of death; its pall hangs over the entire project.
A posthumous biopic was devised, giving Cash the Ray Charles treatment. Joaquin Phoenix did his best Jamie Foxx, but it was no use. The result was a clichéd and underwhelming story of a man who wrestled with the pedestrian demons of drugs and alcohol while overshadowed by better talents. Add his vigilant pursuit of June Carter, while a wife and kids waited at home, and you hardly have an inspiring tale.
He was a man, no better than the rest. His future was saved by the same guy who resurrected Neil Diamond. His ascendance to the ranks of the music gods is so phony and bogus, it's difficult to like him at all -- even if his music was better than pop culture's mindless devotion suggests.